By Melissa Donovan
As more print service providers (PSPs) look to do more with less, turning to trusted technology is seemingly becoming standard. Flatbed applicator tables are not new nor evolutionary, but their main purpose—mounting to boards—is cost effective in these interesting times. While laminating devices are also useful in mounting boards, many PSPs are adopting flatbed applicator tables for a host of reasons.
Flatbed applicators are trending. Looking at many of the vendor booths at recent trade shows, these devices were front and center. Despite continued demand for laminators, both machines working in tandem seem to offer print providers a real bang for the buck.
“In the past sign shops were looking at a second laminator as production increased, now they are turning to flatbed applicators. If vehicle wraps are not part of their production, they are starting with a flatbed applicator instead of a traditional laminator for their laminating, mounting, and pre-masking needs,” explains Carl Hoffman, director of marketing/graphics division, Royal Sovereign, Inc.
Sam Crosby, dealer manager, Graphic Finishing Partners, LLC, notes that “you often see both dual roller and worktable laminators within the same business, a luxury for some but yet essential for higher production shops. Clearly there are benefits of having both options.”
“The explosion of UV direct-to-substrate printers has created an increased demand for work table laminators while also generating surprising growth for dual roller equipment. Single-roller laminating work tables provide two tools in one device; as a standard table surface for preparation or post-detail work as well as a laminator for single-pass laminating specific to the size and thickness of printed substrates. Print providers have learned that UV printing is durable but not indestructible,” continues Crosby.
He suggests if leaning toward a flatbed applicator table to consider things like space, skill level, and cost. “Some considerations to take into account include space required for a laminating work table, which could replace an existing wooden or metal table, skill level/experience of work staff, and cost. Despite their multi-purpose function, and with prices generally starting around $12K and up, a single-roll laminating work table could prove to be prohibitive as the single source for laminating soft or rigid graphics.”
Hoffman notes that “prices have dropped since the introduction of these tables. This said, even with a higher price than a traditional laminator, sign shops have now seen the efficiency of these tables and understand the return in investment.”
“Flatbed applicators are popular due to production flexibility, they help save time and are much faster than a traditional laminator. They are Ideal for one off and volume mounting to substrate boards and can double as a work bench and a laminator/mounter. The flatbed applicator keeps tools and projects close at hand as a central workstation in the finishing department,” explains Brian Gibson, wide format specialist, GBC SEAL.
Of note, when it comes to changes in recent years to the physical components of a flatbed applicator table, Gibson says the ability to raise and lower the table surface is very ergonomic, as it accommodates different user heights.
Although flatbed applicator tables have been around for quite some time, their level of popularity continues to rise. Automation is a huge focus, but for print shops not able to commit to a higher price tag finishing device, a flatbed applicator table offers the best of both worlds.
“Due to a smaller work force and the availability of trained production staff, these devices make it possible for tasks of mounting and laminating that traditionally take multiple people and make It possible for one person,” explains Keith Verkem, senior product manager, Colex Finishing Solutions Inc.
Gibson agrees, pointing out that sign/print shop owners realize the need for automation and lesser dependence on manpower. “Since this machine is simple to use, it can be used to accurately register graphics and to reduce consumable costs. People are recognizing production flexibility as production costs are significantly reduced—one person can operate it, apply security films/laminates, and pre-mask with ease.”
“We hear from shops that the benefits of work tables are simplicity of use, speed in which short-run sheets can be laminated or pre-masked, and that initial waste is minimal,” agrees Crosby.
Over a Traditional Laminator
Traditional laminators are commonly used to mount graphics to rigid boards, however print providers might prefer using a flatbed applicator depending on the scenario.
One reason to use it over a laminator, its multi-purpose-ability. “They serve as a worktable, backlit source, laminator, mounter, and pre-masking device. They eliminate extra workspace that is needed with conventional processes,” explains Hoffman.
“This machine can be used to handle multiple tasks—it is a work bench for speedy processing of all varieties of projects, not just laminating and mounting,” agrees Gibson.
According to Verkem, applying to rigid boards should be completed on a flatbed applicator because it will offer better registration and require less people compared to a traditional laminator.
“The flatbed applicator is ideal in a sign shop where pre-cut blank substrates can be easily registered. Also application of pre-mask without wrinkles, laminate individual graphics swiftly, and apply security films,” adds Gibson.
The ease and convenience of a flatbed applicator table for these types of applications is why is preferred over traditional laminators.“Work table laminators offer an easy and convenient way to laminate short-run rigid substrates or sheeted vinyl images with quick changeover when switching between different laminate/masking films with little to no waste. An operator can finish their print with little set up and without interrupting the workflow produced through a traditional dual roll laminator,” notes Crosby.
Where roll laminators excel, says Gibson, is extended runs of graphics requiring the same laminate. “Car wrappers love a roll-to-roll laminator because they can pump out massive volumes of laminated graphics with very little maintenance.”
“Traditional roll laminators offer a more affordable, space reducing option while providing flexibility, particularly when finishing roll vinyl or longer production runs. Unlike work table laminators, a dual roll laminator can be equipped with heat, a rewind take up, and inline slitters that can trim 50 percent of the graphics while still allowing rigid substrates to pass through and be laminated as needed,” adds Crosby.
Flatbed applicator table options abound and we asked vendors to share their latest products and standout features here.
The Colex Bubble-Free Pro Flatbed Applicator table offers a steel welded frame. The rigid frame design means the application roller is always parallel to the working surface so applications are consistent. All the components are of the highest quality to provide maintenance-free operation. With a five millimeter self-healing mat on the surface and a ten layer safety glass top that is also LED backlit, the application table is also a wonderful work surface for cutting and packing. Colex also offers a Keencut EVO3 option that seamlessly attaches to the end of the table to provide cutting capabilities.
Cutworx USA offers its CWT line of applicators. According to the company, its flatbed applicator gives better control and less waste than conventional roll laminators due to the easy and precise positioning of the materials and allows for a wider range of materials to be laminated. The modular design makes the CWT worktable easy to transport and install.
The Flatbed Applicator from GBC SEAL is ideal for 63-inch lamination wide large projects, with the applicator designed for the average shop mounting onto boards up to ten feet long by 60 inches wide. It comes with a unique tilted table that can help reduce shipping costs and makes entering doors easier. The table features a tempered glass surface and pneumatic roller making it ideal for pressure-sensitive applications. The 130 millimeter diameter silicon roller features a long lifetime and can meet different laminating and mounting requirements. Included with the unit is a side tray for storage, a self-healing cutting mat protecting the glass top from damage, a media holder at the end of the table, and an extendable cutter helpful to trim projects ergonomically.
Graphic Finishing Partners offers the FT48 finishing table, which turns any roll laminator into a sign making, flatbed applicator for mounting or laminating rigid substrates and printed sheets by providing a faster, easier one-step roll application process. It combines a 60-inch wide by 48-inch diameter roller ball transfer table with a cutting surface, both in one space-saving accessory.
KALA Finishing Systems’ AppliKator roller is made of high-resistance silicon, not rubber. Adhesive materials don’t stick on its surface for easier operation and less waste. If you already own, or intend to purchase a Kala 1650 laminator or a Kala XY automatic trimmer, the 65-inch shaft is the same and can also be used on the AppliKator table. The devices offer significant time savings in handling rolls of media from one finishing stage to another. Table height is adjusted upon installation at 32, 36, or 40 inches.
Rollsroller’s best-selling flatbed applicator is the Rollsroller Premium. According to the company, it is designed to meet the needs of high-volume industrial production. Premium is equipped with side trays for rolls of banner media, which makes it ideal for flex-face sign applications.
Distributed in the U.S. by Royal Sovereign, the Rollover range of flatbed applicators comprises of two different product lines. Rollover flatbed applicators offer simple and effective ways of solving the daily challenges of the sign making industry. Regardless of media type such as self-adhesive foil applicators, road signs, glass application, and banners up to 90 millimeters in thickness, the Rollover ensures an ideal result in a minimal amount of time.
Flatbed applicator tables are an easy way to add much-needed automation to your print shop. Consider their effectiveness when mounting or pre-masking rigid boards, as well as using the machine for a host of other reasons while minimizing usage of space in a confined area. Traditional laminators are effective solutions in their own right, but it’s worth considering a flatbed applicator table.
Jul2022, Digital Output